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Shopsteward Volume 26 No. 2

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Media Centre  |  COSATU Speeches

COSATU 2nd Deputy President, Violet Seboni's address to the CEPPAWU National Bargaining Conference

28 March 2007

Comrade office bearers of CEPPWAWU, shop stewards, union officials and activists.

It is a great pleasure for me to address your National Bargaining Conference today.

We all know that collective bargaining is a core pillar of any union, with many of our successes measured through how well we did at the bargaining table for our members. Our growth and strength is determined on how our collective action improves the wages and working conditions of our members.

While bargaining, is in essence, a fundamental strength of trade unions, the type of union movement we have created is not just based on the bargaining gains we can achieve at the table.

Comrades, it is based on the linkage between this and other two key pillars:

Firstly we seek to use the unity and strength gained from greater numbers to improve the working conditions of members and to continuously improve their wages.

Secondly we are seeking to use that strength to defend the jobs of our members and fight for social and economic policies that will defend members' and workers' pay and living standards.

Thirdly we seek to use this strength to represent workers' broad political interests. We know very well that it is pointless to fight for improved pay if that pay will be eroded by, for example, transport costs.

As we measure our success in advancing these pillars, the unionism we have built goes beyond the narrow shopfloor issue. We shall continue to resist attempts to confine our role to the workplace. We shall play all these roles because to us they are one struggle.

Our growth and strength is determined by our ability to use collective action to achieve these ends.

Comrades,

While we welcome the many opportunities that our democracy has ushered, we must continue to be vigilant against the continued threats of job losses, increasing levels of casualisation, increasing poverty and growing inequality.

These growing threats will continue to threaten many of the gains we have made as workers of the years. In fact COSATU believes that the first decade of democracy has not been for workers and the poor. Even recent indications show that this trend is not just hot air but a reality:

  1. There is no significant shift of those employed in the share of people below the international poverty line. Between 2002 - 2005, just over 50% of those employed earn less than $2 a day or R1500 per month in real terms. Or seen from another angle, just over 65% of those employed earn R2500 and less a month. These are many of the workers employed within the sectors you organise!
  2. .. Inequality continues to grow; showing that the poorest 50% employed get around 12% of income in CONTRAST the richest 5% enjoyed 42% of income. In terms of households, about 70% of them live below the poverty line.
  3. .. While government continues to praise job growth, analysis of this shows that these jobs are not decent and have mostly been created in vulnerable sectors such as retail, construction, agriculture and call centres. Comrades, we know these jobs are not sustainable and are characterised by low wages, poor working conditions and very little or no access to benefits. These workers cannot open accounts, for example, or improve their living standards and have very little job security. Secondly, the amount jobs that are being created may not be sufficient in halving unemployment by 2014.
  4. .. Linked to this is the growing trend of increasing casualisation. Today, we find more and more workers being employed as casuals, workers being outsourced and employed through labour brokers. These days' workers face these challenges across all sectors of our economy.

For many of workers and poor, the economic growth that is so regularly talked about has not benefited our members or the vast army of unemployed; neither have many of the rural poor, in particular youth and women in our communities benefited from this growth.

Is this the type of growth we can boast about? Growth were the vast majority of people continue to be subjected to unemployment, poverty and inequality?

This form of growth we must reject outright!

People at the top seem easily to lose track of the reality of low pay for most workers. The democratic system has effectively maintained the massive wage gaps left from apartheid. Rather than questioning the overpayment at the top that typified apartheid, we have taken it over wholesale.

Coupled with this is a continued campaign by employers to undermine our labour laws through casualisation, outsourcing and the use of labour brokers. These forms of employment undermine job security and decent work.

At all times we balance our role as a trade union, that must uncompromisingly defend members' interests, but at the same time a trade union that is also part of the revolutionary forces seeking overall change for the betterment of the lives of working class and our people as the whole.

Balancing this is not easy comrades, but if we wish to improve our ability to represent the working poor we must develop new strategies that not only pays lip service to organising casuals but that it becomes a key objective to improving the lives of all working people.

That is why we will continue to embark on our Jobs and Poverty Campaign by holding Provincial summits and uniting other federations, church groups, political organisations, NGO's and other sectors of civil society behind the creation of decent jobs, reducing poverty and inequality. This will eventually culminate in our Jobs and Poverty Conference on the 21-22 May of this year.

Comrades,

Many lessons can be learnt from previous bargaining rounds. In addition, each and every bargaining round throws up new and different challenges for our members and the working class.

But when we move ahead, we need to ask:

  • Has the workers' economic position improved overall in the past 12 years because of our efforts?
  • Have we managed to close the apartheid wage gap?
  • Have we been able to succeed in implementing our bargaining resolutions
  • Have we ensured that workers have adequate career paths and access to skills?
  • Have we been able to campaign against ongoing casualisation?

This is what your bargaining conference must engage with, including some of the key resolutions emerging from you 2005 National Congress on collective bargaining. These are questions that must be answered critically, if you intend to have a successful bargaining conference.

In engaging with these debates we must also draw lessons from assessing previous negotiations. Some of these lessons relate to our approach to negotiations.

For instance, we always tend use CPIX as measurement for real wage increase. It would be useful to consider whether this strategy has improved the living standards of workers. In the last three years or so, the rate of inflation (CPIX) has always been kept low in 3-6% range.

Would it no be better that we shift our strategy to look at inflation for other goods and service, since CIPX tend not to sufficiently capture the true impact of inflation on wages. For example, food inflation annualised increased from December 2005 to December 2006 increased to 7.7%. Meat alone, which is an important part of our diet, increased by 17.8% for the same period!

Similarly, transport inflation came in at about 9.6% in June 2006. Inflation hits those who earn less more than compared to relatively higher income earners and thus your strategy should be geared to take this into consideration.

Secondly, I think it would be important that we step up your campaign of extending the bargaining units. We all know that the fewer workers we bargain for the lesser will be our power to extend agreements beyond our own members; undermining our hard won right to sectoral bargaining.

Lastly, we must make our campaign against ongoing casualisation, outsourcing and the use of labour brokers a reality. Comrades, I want to encourage a more extensive debate on organising all forms of casual workers and how our collective agreements can be extended to them. These workers should be treated no differently to permanent workers and so we can draw valuable lessons from the NUMSA comrades in the Metal Bargaining Council.

These and other specific bargaining strategies should be debated at this conference. This conference will make an assessment of all these issues and decide the way forward.

On behalf of the National Office Bearers and all our members I wish you a very successful bargaining conference.

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